GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Volunteers spent Tuesday morning filling bags with groceries. Dozens of people showed up to request emergency food assistance. People like Mary Dedeaux. She has been coming to Gulf Coast Community Ministries in Gulfport every month to get free food.
"I have a lot of doctors I have to see and go to, and I don't have the money to have the surgery," said Mary Dedeaux as her eyes filled with tears.
The food pantry serves about 100 people every week. Most families are still recovering from hurricane Katrina. The program director believes the crippling economy only made matters worse. In fact, the food pantry has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of visits since last year.
"We have folks that have come in and that have been working and lost their jobs," said Chris Nuss, Executive Director of Gulf Coast Community Ministries. "They have gone through their savings and for the first time have come into my office saying, 'I don't know how to do this. But I have children at home and I need to feed my family.'"
Ernest Blackwood has been out of work for 18 months now.
"I'm getting food, if they'll give me food," said Blackwood. "Everything helps. Anything will help."
The ministry also runs a free medical clinic, but it's only open once a week because the space is too small to handle both the clinic patients and the pantry clients at the same time. That's why the ministry is looking for a building that's probably four times bigger than the current one on Pass Road.
"We're hoping, because we simply have outgrown our space, to relocate to a larger building where we can continue to do the things that we're doing now and expand our ministry," said Nuss. "We'll have lots more parking, more volunteers can come in, and offer our food pantry more days of the week, have more doctors come in."
And the demand for those services is expected to grow, if the economy continues to get worse.
"Thank you for the food," said Mary Dedeaux as she received her bag of groceries.